Book Review: Authors detail impactful giving

Apr 18, 2015


Cindy Reed

Cindy Reed RN, PhD, is currently the Executive Director of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, a University of Iowa based non-profit that recovers donated cornea tissue and ensures that it is safe for transplant. Cindy also provides leadership as Board Chair for Vision Share, a national consortium of Eye Banks, Backyard Abundance, an Iowa City based non-profit and is a founding member of the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT). Cindy and her husband, Steve Lamer, live in Solon and are expecting their first grandchild in August 2015.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in “A Path Appears” shine a clear light on the ways ordinary people in action are changing the face of the world we live in.

Like many of us, Kristof and WuDunn have felt overwhelmed by the challenges we all face confronting those less fortunate in our communities and the world. As most of us have, they have wondered if their money, their time or their talents have truly made a difference. Through some incredible stories, they have identified a myriad of situations where individual action made the critical difference for one person, one village or one country, and they provide practical tools for us to use in evaluating where to put our charitable dollars and volunteer time, and they remind us that just because you can’t help everyone doesn’t mean you can’t help someone.

Using metrics, the authors are able to separate the things that sound like they should make a difference but don’t – like vented clean cook stoves to reduce the 4 million deaths from indoor pollution that occur annually – to the very boring but very effective initiatives like the Helen Keller Foundation’s use of Vitamin A/micronutrient in Third world countries to reduce childhood blindness and make a significant economic productivity impact in a community.

Over and over they give us heartwarming stories of single action that produces larger than life results for the people and communities in need. These acts come in all shapes and sizes, from local, homegrown leaders giving back and improving their communities – like Tererai Trent, who will serve as the dinner keynote speaker at the Eastern Iowa Conference – to random acts of advocacy. In fact, Kristof’s father was helped to escape Eastern Europe in the aftermath of World War II by a French ambassador he didn’t know and never met. The ambassador wrote a brief note to authorities, and as a result, he made his way to America. Now his son, Nicholas, through this book, shows us how even small acts can make all the difference in the world.

WuDunn and Kristof demonstrate through example that just because you can’t fix everything doesn’t mean you can’t fix something. A Path Appears is based on the Chinese proverb: “Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally there is nothing—but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.” (Xu Lin).

Through all the incredible and sometime incredulous examples, Kristof and WuDunn leave us with hope that we, too, can make a difference in this world through our actions and our attention to things around us. They leave us with six actions that could be taken in the next six minutes: 1) See if your book club wants to create a giving component, or invite friends to meet once a month in an informal giving circle to explore ways of giving; 2) Consider supporting an early childhood program for $20 or $30 and help a child learn to read; 3) go to and consider buying a bed net $5 to give to a needy family to prevent malaria; 4) Explore the website to browse projects allover the world, including the ones in the book; 5) Consider advocacy by exploring and sign up to be part of the lobbying effort to get Congress to pay more attention to poverty at home and abroad, or at, you can join petitions to support evidenced based approaches to global health; and (my favorite and so easy) 6) sign up to be an organ donor at (in Iowa it’s ) or when you renew your driver’s license.

And be sure to tell your family and friends on Facebook that you did – because a path will appear!